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The Brewmasters - Colin Kaminski Of Downtown Joes Brewery

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Colin Kaminski started his professional brewing career in 1998 and since that time has written several magazine articles, including "Bring On The Heat" for BYO Magazine. Colin's articles have earned him the prestigious Beer Writer's Guild Feature of the Year Award and he also co-authored the book 'Water - A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers'. Since 2003 Colin has been the Master Brewer for Downtown Joe's in Napa, CA where he has since brewed over 1000 seven barrel batches of ales.

Beautiful Downtown Joe's In Napa CA.
I caught up with Colin one weekday afternoon just as he was preparing to start the boil on his seven barrel system. We spent the next thirty minutes talking about a wide range of subjects including the start of the American Craft Beer industry, industry legends and his take on the future of craft beer.
The Interview:
Vince: I couldn't help but notice all of the news coming out of California about the drought there, has the drought affected Downtown Joe's Brewery at all in Napa?
Colin: No the drought has not affected the brewery's operation this year, although there are restrictions on the time of day for watering lanscaping. We are still using water from the normal reservoirs but if the drought continues through next year it could become a big problem.
Vince: Do you use city water for brewing?
Colin: Yes. The city uses three different water sources depending on quality issues and which is cheaper for the city. For brewing we use one of the three water sources more than the other two, but we do have water recipes built for all three sources so it's not a big problem.
Vince: How did the book Water come about?
Colin: At the time John Palmer and I didn't really know each other, although we knew of each other, and we were both out lecturing about water. The Brewers Association really wanted to do a book on water and they found our talks to be understandable, they had envisioned a book pairing one homebrewer with one pro brewer.

Colin Kaminski And John Palmer
After how long it took John and I to do the book, because of our busy schedules, they kind of changed their plan on that. But that was the original idea. From the time that John and I started communicating with each other about the book until the time the book was actually published took about four and a half years. It was a really long process.
Vince: I remember after reading your book that it came to me as a complete surprise when one section mentioned the book had undergone a complete rewrite. I can only imagine how daunting a task that had to have been for you.
Colin: Rewriting the chapters was really common because a lot of the time we didn't really know what we wanted to say until after we had said it. That was when we would just have to start over and rewrite it. The working process was I would rough out ideas and then John would pick through and decide what he liked and what he didn't like. We would get something roughed out together and then AJ deLange and Martin Brungard would tear us all apart and we'd go back back to the drawing board again. Without AJ and Martin we wouldn't have gotten anywhere. But the final words that were on the page were John's he had the last rewrite on everything. The book was really John's vision and what John had wanted to say.
Vince: When I first read the book I thought by chapter three I would have learned everything there was to know about modifying brewing water. I soon found out that the book went way more in depth than I had imaged. The information it contained was very important but it would take me quite a few reads to understand it all.
Colin: We tried to make sure that, if you wanted to read through the book and begin to apply ideas, that we gave you the tools needed to do that. But if you wanted to fully understand the concepts that there was enough depth in the book so you could do that too. We really wanted it to be accessible to both kinds of readers.
I do everything using stoichiometry and that's not how most people think. So we tried to do both, so someone could do the stoichiometry if they wanted to, or they could just say 1 gram and 1 liter does this.
Vince: I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, the sheer amount of information it contained was impressive and the way the information was presented made it easy to understand. I would never have learned much about brewing water if I hadn't read your book.
Vince: The book mentions AJ deLange, now was this AJ deLange from the HomeBrewTalk.com forum?
Colin: Yeah, AJ deLange yeah.
Vince: I don't recall you posting on HomeBrewTalk at all but I do see AJ and he has some very detailed information about water posted here. I think AJ could probably have written a book himself, if he decided to sit down and try.
Colin: And there was actually some talk about that, why didn't we just have AJ do it, and in the end his skills were best suited for tech editing because he got so involved with the little nuances and details. We would send him things and he would sit in his lab and go "it's more complicated than that" and send us back three pages of lab notes. In the brew house we don't need to understand it to that level, but he was always afraid we were going to over simplify something.

Water Property Diagram From Water -A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers
He was always trying to push us to the next level and I thought he was really good at that, we were really lucky to have him on the book. I started doing water eleven years ago now, getting serious about it, and back then AJ was the only technical person you could get to answer questions.
Vince: I recently visited the BeachHaus Brewery in Belmar New Jersey and saw they had installed a large reverse osmosis filter in the brew house to supply the brewery with water. It was connected to the city water supply, is that how you start your brewing water profiles?
Colin: I'm not using RO water I actually fix my brewing water every day. I get different water every day and I have a target idea of what I want the recipe to be and then I fix the water to match it.
Vince: Well you are brewing on a seven barrel system I guess that would be a lot of water to be stripping and treating every day.
Colin: Well you know you end up with a lot of waste. I would waste about 30% of the water using RO, for me that's a fair amount of water. I think one day I will probably do that. In the beginning my biggest complaint about RO water had always been that I never found a satisfactory way of adding the alkalinity back in. In the course of writing [the book] we came up with some really good solutions. But before writing the book it was like throw chalk in the mash tun and it does a little bit, but it doesn't do what you had calculated it would do.
Vince: I brew with RO water, adding salts and minerals for alkalinity and Lactic acid to drop the pH as needed. I know that chalk requires some additional steps in order to get it to actually dissolve right?
Colin: Yeah and now I wouldn't even consider using chalk I would only use Baking Soda. After all the tests we did chalk wouldn't be part of anything I did, I would use only Baking Soda.
Vince: If for some reason the pH fell below my target I add baking Soda to get the pH up within range again.
Colin: You know for a big Stout though you really need some of the alkalinity to carry through to the finished beer. You really need the alkalinity in there otherwise the dark beers just don't taste rich and full. I'm not really sure what happens on the palate if you don't start with alkaline water. I like having about 50ppm alkalinity, it makes a really nice dark beer, so not a really high alkalinity.
Out here we use a lot of water sources and I'm used to actually having 100ppm. If you go a few valleys over you see about 200ppm alkalinity. So we're using acid to really knock out the alkalinity. But if you start out with RO you really need to put some alkalinity back in for the darker beers, not so much for the Pales.
Vince: I used to live 50 miles further from the Ocean than I do now and brewed with filtered tap water. My Stouts always seemed to taste good and my lighter beers seemed like they could be better. I installed an RO filter where I live now and found that both Stouts and IPAs taste better and have better color now.
Colin: Getting some sulfate and enough calcium so that the yeast performs correctly is really important. My water is really high in magnesium so I've never really added magnesium. But Martin Brungard wrote a really interesting article recently in Zymergy about how important magnesium is and to not skip it when building from RO.
Vince: I use Epson Salt as a source of magnesium, calcium chloride, and gypsum. I've found that sodium is kind of tough to get in higher levels without actually adding sodium.
Colin: I personally don't like the sodium in itself but it's the easiest way to get the alkalinity in, it becomes a trade off there, when we did the math. I had such a big issue here at the brewery when I started 12 years ago, that I will never add sodium mentality, and AJ really explained to me how wrong I was about it. And that starting with RO water and Baking Soda you don't really add enough sodium, then that becomes a flavor threshold issue. A water softener really does add enough sodium for it to become a flavor issue. With a water softener you really are taking out a lot of ions and that was our problem.
Our experience here was with the water softener and it was awful, just ruining beer. It took me about 9 months to realize that the kettle was being filled with softened water. I had to trace the plumbing under the building and the whole thing. It turned out to be that some parts of the building's water was being softened and other parts were not. In the brewery the hot liquor tank was treated with softened water while the rest of the brewery wasn't. After some changes to the plumbing I now have a choice of using soft water for cleaning or hard water for brewing beer.

The Brew House At Downtown Joe's In Napa CA.
Vince: I realize your time. Do you want to tell me anything about the brewery, plans for future beers, are you thinking about writing anymore? It sounds like you're taking a break from writing I think you had said right?
Colin: Yeah you know I did I took a long break from it. Writing was really stressful making the deadline was really stressful and it was really hard. I would get time away from the brewery and my wife would want me to spend time with her and the kids and it would be like I have this deadline, so it was stressful for her as well.
Vince: I bet it was a big weight off of your shoulders when the book was finally done.
Colin: It was certainly a relief when it went to press. I think if I were to write again I wouldn't tell anybody what I was writing until I had a full manuscript. That way there's no deadlines.
Vince: Yes that would take a lot of pressure off of you definitely.
Colin: I have a couple of ideas. I did a lot of product design at Brew Beer and More Beer, a lot of heat transfer equations. Things like those [heat transfer equations], that I used back then, do not really get taught in the engineering of brewing and that was something I'd like to address. Unless someone beats me to it.
Vince: You apparently know a lot. In my mind you were way ahead of the curve too. It's only in the past year or two that I am starting to see recipes that include water profile information. Which is a real step forward when you consider there wasn't much mentioned about yeast in recipes 3 or 4 years ago. Other than take a pack of this, put it in there and 7 days later do that. I see the whole home brewing industry as maturing now.
Colin: Yeah this is how it is and there is less and less of a line between home brewing and pro brewing. What made it easy for me when I started out I was reading pro brewing text books and applying it to home brewing. There were so many things that didn't exist, equipment that didn't exist, that I was able to just make those those things and make a living off it. For example: Nobody ever had temperature controlled hot liquor, you just turned on a burner, put a thermometer in and when it looked right you turned off the burner and mashed in. That's what everybody did and everybody asked well why do you need a thermostat on it?
For me I've made a lifetime literally of taking pro brewer information and giving it to the homebrewers. Now there isn't so much of that to do. A lot of home brewers now are reading the pro texts and the pro texts are getting better and better themselves. In the beginning I was reading D'Clerk and I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I mean he's a brewer at the end of his career writing down what he thinks you need to know. And he was right, the language was archaic, but he was right. Finally in 2006 we started to see some really good textbooks out there.
Vince: I can see where some things like boiling off DMS and preventing yeast autolysis were a crossover, in that the information related more towards a 6 foot diameter 8 foot high vessel than the typical home brewer's 5 gallon setup.
Colin: Exactly and even George Fix did some research into the geometry in the beginning, trying to figure out how fermentations were going to work. He did some comparisons of short flat fermenters and long tall fermenters in the home brew sizes. In pro brewing we knew for a long time that the shape of a fermentor made a big difference. We had just assumed that the size in home brewing was too small to make a difference but George Fix found out that it did. He was the first person really trying to get detailed data from home brewing equipment.

Over 800 Barrels Of Beer Poured Through These Faucets Per Year
Vince: I'm currently researching an article on brewing the California Common Beer and you had mentioned the flat fermenters. The brewers back then had open flat fermentors on the roof of the brewery and they used the cold San Francisco night air to keep them cool.
Colin: You know and it did and there's a couple of things that are really interesting about that. They were putting in a pretty big pitch [of yeast] because they knew they would get contamination. San Francisco makes this great sourdough bread because of the amount of the lactobacillus that's everywhere. The rooftop fermentors had square corners and the square corners produced diacetyl. We would expect those beers to have more diacetyl than what we would normally expect out of a conical fermentor.
Vince: That's funny when I look at the BJCP Guidelines for the style, their description says diacetyl should be low to nonexistent, if I have my facts straight.
Colin: Yeah and I don't think that would have been historically but there is no way to tell. Fritz Maytag might have tasted one but we don't get to run into Fritz much anymore. Fritz used to be somebody you'd see all the time.
Vince: Really! I've been to San Francisco but not before 1965 I think that's when he bought 51% of the brewery or somewhere around then.
Colin: Maybe 1963 or something like that. He was hanging out in North Beach a lot, delivered a lot of kegs on his way to the bar after work.
Vince: Ha-ha to think he started out making washing machines that's quite a jump in careers.
Colin: Well he didn't make them, his inheritance was from washing machines. He wasn't doing anything and his family was like, you have this inheritance you need a business, you need a business, you need a business and those are literally words out of his mouth. He told me this story personally. So he decided to do a brewery and his family thought it was a really bad idea but they let him and he stuck with it.
Vince: Awesome. I'm so glad he did because I know that there are other Cali' Common beers available but my favorite has always been Anchor Steam. The first one I had was 7 years ago in San Francisco and that opened my eyes to craft beer. Prior to that I was a Budweiser, PBR and all typical barbecue fare beer drinker.
Colin: You know to be honest he was the first Craft Brewer. I mean as much credit as Ken Grossman deserves, Fritz was out there all by himself at the bleeding edge. Trying to make flavorful beers, make them clean and make them deliverable and affordable before anybody else. And when he was doing it there was no one to copy from.
Vince: Let me ask you is there anything else before we go?
Colin: The only thing that comes to mind lately is back when I started brewing everybody was really fun and happy and sharing everything. Nobody had any secrets, nobody talked bad about anybody. Now with over 3000 more breweries open than back then people are starting to be snobby and "oh I don't have time to talk to that person" blah, blah, blah. That really isn't how this industry was built and when you meet people who have been around for 15, 20, 25 years they will give you the shirt off their back and talk to you, let you use their lab whatever.

Jason Petros, Colin Kaminski and Justin Crossley
I can remember sitting at the baggage carousel with Ken Grossman and have him sit down and talk to you and say "hey Ken I've got this problem in the brewery" and hear "oh I've had that problem and we did this". These guys were all really approachable and friendly and I really want to see that it continues into the next generation of brewers.
Vince: I think you may have hit on something there, with all the consolidation happening with breweries now. From what I've read the belief was that one brewer would help another and that working together they would be lifting the industry in general.
Colin: And that's exactly what is was. Every customer that walked in the door had only had Coors or PBR. We had to take every customer from scratch and say this is what craft brewing is about and you had to teach every customer one at a time. It was so much work in the beginning for us to get people to say "oh maybe I'll taste it".
And so everybody was on the same side it wasn't Anchor Steam against Sierra Nevada or whatever it was Craft Brewers trying to win the flavor back for the people.
Vince: What about distribution are you self-distributing?
Colin: I only do on premise, I do about 827 barrels all through my own faucets. That is no bottles, no growlers and no kegs.
Vince: Colin thank you so much for your time and for sharing your experience with me and our HomeBrewTalk readers.
Colin: Cheers!
Bio:
Colin Kaminski has spent the last 35 years finding ways to blend science and art. His tasks have included assembly language software, motorcycle design and repair, guitar making, theatrical lighting design, tooling design, holography and brewing beer. When not brewing his latest hobby is hydrofoil design and simulation.
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Vince, that is a great article! I loved it. I like the discussion about water chemistry, as well as the personal touches there. Thank you so much for this!
 
This article pushed me one step closer to sending a water sample out to get tested. I've had good luck where I am (SW Ohio), but I've always wondered how much better my beers could be if I knew the mineral concentrations.
 
Great read! Water chemistry has become a "geek" point to me that I just can't seem to read enough about!
 
Thanks a million Colin Kaminsky and screwybrewer for a brilliant interview. Really enjoyed reading this. Thank you gents.
 
I really like these interview articles. I know lots of people complain about the quality of articles, so I don't want to lump myself into that crowd, but I gotta say it was incredibly difficult to make it through this one. I don't understand why this wouldn't have been submitted to be edited. Very simple grammatical fixes would've made this a great article.
 
Great article!
"The only thing that comes to mind lately is back when I started brewing everybody was really fun and happy and sharing everything. Nobody had any secrets, nobody talked bad about anybody."
I'm a part of this next generation of brewers and I share his vision. cheers!
 
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